Just Look...

Just Look...

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Big Leap

Everyone is nestled all snug in their beds. The house is quiet, other than the television show Kraig is watching upstairs. And I'm sitting here, just thinking and worrying and praying.

I remember the night before Emma's first day of kindergarten like it was yesterday. I was a nervous wreck and I couldn't quit crying. I also couldn't let go of this feeling that everything mattered SO MUCH, that I had somehow not taken enough advantage of the years that brought us to that point and that the next day would shape the entire remainder of her educational career, both social and academic. My favorite story about Emma is one I think I have shared here before. We were on the way to her first day of kindergarten, and as we drove, I was talking to her (in child terminology) about the upcoming day, year, years. I told her how she represented us and Jesus, how she had a lot of education ahead of her so she might as well enjoy it, how the patterns she established there would last forever. and so on and so on. She was listening intently. After 8-10 minutes of my speech, I came to the end and paused, expecting some sort of 5 year old's affirmation of my words of wisdom. Instead, this is what piped from the backseat as she gazed out the window: "Mommy, it's so foggy out there, I can hardly see those cows." Well. OK. Good talk. ;)

I gave a similar talk tonight, but this time it wasn't to an adorable 5 year old safely strapped into the carseat in the back seat of my car. This time it was to 3 teenagers headed alone into an unfamiliar educational system in a new country with a strange tongue and different culture. It was to that 5-year-old-somehow-turned-freshman-in-high-school headed into the last four years under my roof, years that I know will go by so quickly I won't even have time to think twice. It was to a 7th grader whose entire world has changed in the past 6 weeks and who has proven that she has compassion, gentleness, long-suffering, and "momming" inside her in quantities I never would have imagined possible in a child of 12.

And this time, I don't think my talk fell on deaf ears. Faces were serious and I suspect hearts were pounding. And if no one else's was, mine was. Mine is. Because we are now truly into the years where lives are shaped and revealed. Everything DOES matter so much. And the time left is so, so short. I am not a person who believes that teen years are something to dread. I loved mine and I have loved the teen years of my kids so far and expect to love the rest of them. But I do know how high the stakes are. I have seen so many kids lose sight of who and Whose they are over the years. And I have seen so many kids marginalized. And nothing breaks my heart any more.

I told my 5 tonight, especially my new 3, there will be kids who WANT to help you and be your friend. And there will be other kids who want to hurt you and be mean to you. The most important thing of all is that YOU aren't the one who is mean. Second to that, find friends who make you a better person and skirt those who seem bent on making life hard for others. But please, whatever you do, find SOMEONE. Find SOMETHING to be part of.

I have spent two nights dreaming off and on of my new 3 sitting alone in the cafeteria, of my daughter not talking to a soul from 7:50-2:50 every single day, and it kills me inside. I want so much for people to see the Angela we all know and love, the funny girl with the quirky personality. I want people to hear Roman's wit and revel in his beautiful smile. I need people to understand Francisco's enthusiasm and joy. And more than anything, I think I am terrified that all the bonding and attaching and growing we have all done over the past 6 weeks might be undone by time at school. That is my biggest fear. I'm scared that Emma and Kelsey will get wrapped up in their friends and outside lives and forget the ways we all became a family of seven this summer. I'm scared that Francisco will become cynical, that we will lose Roman, and that Angela will turn inward.

It's funny, I have always been so nervous about the first day of school for myself. This year, I have hardly given it a thought because all of my emotion and nerves are wrapped up in other people. I hope and pray that this is a post I look back on and chuckle. "How silly of me to have been so worried!" "God brought them this far, why would I have ever thought He would leave them here?" "It's so crazy to read this post and then realize how EASY this school year was for everyone!"

But whatever the outcome, I know that we have One who will be walking this path beside us. And I know that a whole army of prayer warriors are lifting all 7 of us up in the coming days and weeks. And I know that a community of people, from middle school age kids to adults, have offered support and love and assistance to us. I have to believe that there are more people in this world who want to improve the lives of others than there are who want to make them difficult. And I also have to believe that God has sent and is sending those people into our paths right this very moment.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Mountain Thinkin'

I've always loved the idea of mountains. I have loved looking up at them, looking over at them, and looking off of them. I've always been confused, however, by "mountain thinking". Sometimes people talk about mountains as the obstacles and the valleys as the peaceful places. Other times, the valley is the hard part and the mountain tops are the peaks of joy. So I've never been really clear on whether or not mountains as symbols are supposed to be challenges or successes.

This past year, I have realized mountains are both. At the same time, quite frequently.

Since August 11, 2016, we have been climbing a mountain. We have had mountains in our way that God has had to move. And we have enjoyed the beauty of the summit. 

The adoption journey itself is every bit like climbing a mountain. There are mounds of paperwork (mountains in themselves), there are obstacles in the way, it takes persistence and faith and perseverance. Some days are stormy and you just have to batten down the hatches of the tent and wait it out. Some are exhilarating, when you get glimpses of the view that is to come. And the entire process is one foot in front of the other, holding to the Lord's hand. 

Due to our need to expedite, we had mountain after mountain that God had to just move for us. The financial mountain was a huge one. And He did. The approval mountain was another. And He did. The timing mountain and the fact that we needed one document approved by March 12 (and got it with FIVE DAYS TO SPARE) was another. And He did. 

As for the mountain as high point metaphor, we have also now experienced that. We met our kids on June 10 and it was the most incredible and surreal experience of my life. (more on that later) Every day since, as we have grown closer and gotten to know each other more and bonded, has been more of a summit experience. 

During our Skype calls before we went, we asked the kids if there was anything they wanted to do while we were in country that was within the right distance for us to do (we ALL wanted to go to Palawan, but it wasn't close enough). They immediately said Taal Volcano. I had seen pictures on Pinterest and I was ALL IN. I couldn't think of anything more appropriate than the 7 of us climbing a volcano together as our first real family outing. And the internet assured me that it was a "moderate, dusty trek" and that the climb was "relatively easy". {I think the internet may have been written by people in better shape than me.} My mother-in-law considered staying back, saying she wasn't sure she could do the climb, and I promised her it was apparently not a big deal at all and she would be fine. (Remember this part.) 

We set out for the volcano excursion clad (thankfully) in tennis shoes and armed with full bottles of cold water from SP, accompanied by a sweet SP staff member, Bo. The ride to the volcano was long and curvy, which meant I was feeling pretty car sick by the time we got there. I knew once I got out and started walking, I would be fine. (Remember this part too.) We boarded the coolest boats to take across the lake to the island where the volcano is located. I was so excited for the journey, taking pictures of the beautiful scenery and my beautiful children. They didn't know it then, but I had a surprise in my backpack... a leather cuff for each family member with "Davis 7", our family verse, and each person's individual verse on them. I had visions of the beautiful moment at the summit when I would bestow each bracelet onto each person and talk to them about our new family, maybe even have a little prayer together. I was so excited about the beautiful photos we would take together at the top. (Remember this part too.)

When we got to the shore and started the walk (and it was truly just a walk at that point), I was relieved that the internet was correct about the difficulty level of the journey. Then the dust turned to ash. Then the level ground went steep. Then my PEOPLE, who were supposed to LOVE me, basically started to RUN. I started to breathe harder and harder, get slower and slower. Eventually they were having to stop and wait on me, my mother-in-law, and Emma (who stayed with us out of pure kindness, not because she was out of shape). I kept sipping water, thinking surely I just needed to walk a bit and I would be fine. 

{My pride is requiring that I include the following information. 
1. We had been at Royal Family Kids Camp the week before. I do not eat much at all at Royal Family Kids Camp. 
2. I had eaten only a burger in the 36 hours of travel. 
3. I had not eaten much in the two days we had been at SP. 
4. I had SEVERELY neglected hydration, both at Royal Family, in travel, and in the Philippines. 
5. I DO have a diagnosed heart condition. ;) (The winky is just because I don't know that it factored in, not because it isn't real. It is. ) 
6. My emotional state was a little wonky, as anyone's would be at that point.
7. I AM terribly out of shape. However, I can and have done hard physical things. This was ... different. I don't know what happened to me.
8. Rather than start at a leisurely pace, we started FLYING, which exhausted me from the get-go.}

Eventually, a little over halfway up (they have Stations of the Cross all the way up which, I'm not going to lie, felt very fitting), it became clear that I could either stop and wait for them to return or I could orphan these children a second time. I was shaky, dizzy, and my pulse had only gotten up to 51, which couldn't be good. I told them to go ahead and I would see them after. I tried to get our guide from SP to go on with them but he refused, saying he would stay with me and my mother-in-law. Emma also refused to go on, staying with us. We sat on the edge of the trail and rested (in the shade) while I engaged in a serious pep talk with myself, not to keep going, but to let go of my expectations and not be disappointed that it didn't play out the way I had envisioned. 

After sitting for a little while, we decided to try again. I made it a very short distance before I knew it was stupid to keep going. We sat down again. I kept urging Emma to catch them but she refused. My mother-in-law and I both hated for Emma to miss it, so she finally said she would try to go further with Emma so that Emma could see it. I gave them my blessing and sent them forth, finally having come to terms with my expectations being unmet. And that's where Bo becomes a major player in my story. 

25 years old from Palawan, Bo has been with SP for a few years. He was a baker before he felt God calling him to do something meaningful for other people and went to work at SP. We sat and chatted. He was so kind to me, had already pulled a rock over for me to sit on every time we stopped. At some point, Bo told me he thought there was a better place to sit a little further up if I felt like I could go a little further. I agreed, and we walked a while longer until we reached the better place to sit. Eventually the sun shifted and Bo told me that there was a nice shady spot on up, if I wanted to go to it. We went a little father to that shady spot. Time passed. I kept thinking they would be back down at any point, but they weren't and weren't and weren't. A Filipino couple stopped beside us, she was struggling like I had been (and she was also lots younger and more fit, so I felt better). I told her there was no shame in just staying there. ;) Meanwhile, horse after horse passed us, carrying smarter people on their backs. (You can pay to ride a horse to the top. However, I knew if my sister had any idea that we had ridden an emaciated horse to the top of a volcano, she would never forgive us. So we chose our feet. Clearly a poor choice in regard to MY feet.) Bo then told me if I went just a little bit farther, it would level off and maybe I could just walk a while to meet them. I was feeling much better, so we did. Until I stopped again. After THAT rest, Bo pointed out that actually just around the corner, you could SEE the summit. He wondered if maybe I would want to do that, just to see where they were. I agreed, so we walked to that point. That's where the trek changed. A LOT. What had started as a bit of a hike, then leveled off some, then became a hike again, at this point became a CLIMB. And I was SO HOT AND TIRED. Still dizzy. 

But here's the thing..... when you can SEE the summit..... you don't stop. You don't get to the point where you can SEE the top, SEE people enjoying it, KNOW that the view is just over the crest... and WAIT. You GO. You summon everything in you and you CLIMB. 

And that's what I did. Bo asked me my favorite songs and played Christian music on his phone, singing sweetly. I talked to myself and Jesus in my head the entire way, reminding myself, "With Jesus, I can do hard things" and begging Him to just help me put one foot in front of the other. (I also had a lengthy plea with him for my people not to have come down on another trail because IF I HAD CRAWLED TO THE TOP OF THAT VOLCANO AND THEY HAD BEEN GONE I WOULD STILL BE LAYING THERE. Truth.) I slipped and I sweated and I stumbled and by the time I got to the stairs, I was almost crawling, but I reached the top of that mountain. With Bo by my side and Jesus moving my legs, I made it. And my people were all still there. With cold bottles of water. And joy (and surprise!) in their faces to see me. (My mother-in-law, who is old enough to be my mother, ;) made it relatively easily. I did not. It's ok. I'm good at other things. HAHA!)

And in my life, that moment will be one of the most beautiful for me. Not because it looked anything like it was supposed to, because it did NOT. Not because I accomplished it with anything like grace or beauty, because I did NOT. Not because I ever want to do it again, because I do NOT. ;) 

But because I made it. Because He girded me with strength. Because Bo was the most incredible encourager I can ever imagine. Because my family was waiting for me at the top.

And with great gasps for oxygen, I gave them their bracelets. And soaked in sweat, I took photos with my family. There was no prayer, no speech, just sweaty hugs and sweet relief to be at the top.

***Edited to add that the trip DOWN was probably even worse for me. There was a point almost at the bottom when I had to sit down, family around me, out of water, and came frighteningly close to laying down on the ground, which I imagine would have freaked out my three new children. I stumbled the last few yards to the boat, sat in the floor of the boat with my head laid over on the bench the whole way back across the lake, slept in the van for the ride up, and by the time we got to the restaurant and I went to the bathroom, I had double vision. I truly have no idea what happened to my body that day, but it was more than a little scary and a lot embarrassing.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Part the Sunday School Teacher's Flannel Board Left Out

When the words from the 8th chapter of Genesis appeared on the screen as this morning's sermon context, I felt my brow furrow as I fumbled for my phone and swiped back a chapter. Yep, there it was: "The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days." Last verse of chapter 7. Before my pastor even started his sermon or I knew where he was going with it, I was already thinking to myself what a powerful message it was, the days of the boat just floating on the waters, no rain but also no land in sight. And I was also wondering how I had been a Christian for so long and somehow missed this part of the story.

When I think of Noah and the ark, I think of the days of humiliation and verbal abuse he likely took from those around him (thanks, "Evan Almighty", for making that part of the story vivid). I think of the strange and somewhat misplaced relief he probably felt when it actually DID start to rain, relief that quickly turned to dread and concern for his neighbors and even fear for himself and his family as the storm raged. I think of the forty days and forty nights of rain and thunder and lightning.

And then, I think of the end of the story. I have the same flannel board Sunday School memories of every other churched child of the late 70's and early 80's. He sent out the raven, then the dove, then the dove again and it returned with the olive leaf in its mouth, then the dove again and it didn't come back. And then of course the end of the story, the rainbow and the covenant God made with Noah and His people... but that's always where I have left it.

Today, as our pastor preached a message that made some of these points and a few others, I thought about those days on that ark, waiting on the water to recede. I don't know what it was like for Noah and his family because I didn't know Noah or his family, but I can tell you what it would have been like for me.

The long, hot days of building the ark while being taunted would have been very hard for me. I don't like public humiliation at all, I don't like to be out front, and I would have hated every second of that stage of the process. However, I think I could have kept it together and persevered.

I would have been strongest in the forty days and nights. I am one of those people who does very well in the moment of an emergency situation then falls apart afterward. My adrenaline will carry me very far, even in my fear, and it gives me strength.

Do you know when I would have fallen apart? In the 320 days after the rain stopped (apparently this number is highly debatable, give or take 20ish days, but I'm going with this number). I don't do well at all in the "almost, not yet" stage. In fact, I am basically helpless in that stage. It's not a lack of faith, either. Very seldom do I question God's deliverance. It's 100% a lack of control. Noah worked hard building that ark. I bet the days of the storm were busy ones where he calmed frightened animals, checked for leaks and rationed food and water. I do well when I have lots to occupy myself and can feel like I am making progress on something. It's the days of looking out the window, watching for mountaintops, hoping doves will find a place to roost that get to me. I can't imagine Noah walking the halls of that ark, day after day after day, somewhere around 320 of them, ready to start his life again post-ark and yet unable to do so.

I have a lot of our adoption story left to write and this story of Noah reminds me of the section of time of which I am least proud. In the days between the visa appointment (May 5) and our travel approval (June 6) and departure (June 8), I pretty much felt like I was going completely and totally crazy, and not the kind you laugh and joke about. The REAL kind. I was irritable, I was impetulant, I was illogical, I was insufferable. At the peak of what I call the insane period, I spent several days legitimately feeling like either everyone around me had lost their minds or, more likely, I had. I was angry, too. I felt jealous that that phase was faster and easier for others in the same process, I was mad that the timing had to be so challenging, and I was livid that I didn't understand the details of what was happening (or, in our case at that point, NOT happening). I paced this house like a caged lion, much like I imagine Noah paced the aisles of that ark. I remember one entire day (the girls were gone somewhere, I can't remember where) that I had so much I needed to do to pack for camp and the Philippines, things left to do in their bedrooms, and a house to leave clean, and all I did was sit on my bed and basically sulk.


I JUST. WANTED. THAT ARK TO FIND LAND (or more specifically, I wanted to land in the Philippines).

I lived in this period for one month and one day. Noah lasted a year. But whether it's the dismal failure that I was in that one month and one day or the unwritten description of Noah for that year, the Truth remains the same. God remembered. Genesis 8:1, the Scriptural context of my pastor's sermon today, says, "But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded." As my pastor stated today, God remembers us. And we will see the mountaintops again, no matter where we are.

If you are floating in that boat on the waters, having already weathered the storm and now being held captive in the "almost-not yet", this is the Promise for you, too. God remembers you. And one day, hopefully soon, those mountaintops will surface, that dove will return bearing Hope in its beak, and your feet will find dry ground.

Monday, June 26, 2017

A Double Portion

I have had this tab open on my phone for months and months, waiting to be able to write this post.

Deuteronomy 28:12
The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none.

{And I have now had this post written for well over a month, waiting to be able to publish it. I wanted to wait because I wasn't sure what sort of internet access our kids had in the Philippines and I wanted to make sure this wasn't a post they would read any time soon. I know there will come a time when they realize the cost of adoption but it's not something I want them to know right now and it's certainly not something I want them to have to think about. I want them to know the miracles of Provision God gave us by way of timing and favor and so many other things, but I don't want them to feel like they "cost something" to us, at least not until they are old enough to see it for what it is.}

God will lavish you with good things: children from your womb, offspring from your animals, and crops from your land, the land that God promised your ancestors that he would give you. God will throw open the doors of his sky vaults and pour rain on your land on schedule and bless the work you take in hand. You will lend to many nations but you yourself won’t have to take out a loan.
(The Message)

When we started to gather information at the beginning of this adoption, we had the option of two different agencies. The one I made initial contact with first was a little bit cheaper than the one we decided to go with.  However, as this process has moved at lightning speed, I am 100% sure that if we had gone with the other agency, we would not be preparing to pick our kids up in the next month. Instead, we would be grieving the fact that our oldest son aged out and trying to figure out what we would do from here.

The initial figure we received was $37,000. That amount, however, was based on one kid instead of three in several categories (airfare, certificate of citizenship, etc). In addition, one figure in that total has tripled (thanks, US Government) since we started the adoption. So, that’s tripled TIMES THREE. Some regulations have changed as well and we are now required to have more post-placement visits, which increases the amount we owe to our home study agency in Tennessee. Additional trainings have been added, most of which cost money. Our airfare was more than anticipated, travel costs were higher than expected, etc, etc.. The total amount for our adoption has ended up being $45,700.

A few things are not included in the total above, but are things that we have worked in our shirt business for, saved, or done a specific fundraiser for.

Not included in that total is the price of airfare for Emma and Kelsey. We desperately wanted to save the money to take them with us to get their brothers and sister, so that was additional money we needed to save and work for through our shirt business.

We love the orphanage that has loved our kids so well and want to be able to do something for them. We inquired about needs and things we could bring and were told that it’s nice to take your whole new family out shopping and buy things there to leave with the orphanage, thus eliminating the need for suitcase space AND allowing your adopted children a chance to feel like they are sowing back into a ministry that has served them well. We are in the middle of a hat fundraiser to raise those funds for that.

Kraig and I wanted to do something special for the staff at the orphanage and also possibly for the other children there.  That cost is not included in the above total either.

One option for adoption assistance is adoption grants. Our issue is that (we thought) ours was going to be so fast that the window to apply for those grants fell the wrong way to apply for most of them. We didn’t have our homestudy completed in time (required) to hit the October deadlines and (we assumed and were wrong) we would be finished before the April deadlines. We did find three grants we could apply for, but we did not receive any of the three. Adoption grants come in various amounts but many of them will provide between $7000 and $10,000. I spent a lot of time terribly stressed out over the fact that we weren’t eligible to apply for the grants that I KNEW we would have a good chance at getting because if there’s one thing I can do, it’s write grants. This is a perfect example of God removing all control from me throughout this process. The FEW things I knew I could handle on my own were all things that He forced me to rely on Him instead.

In November, shortly after the grant deadlines all passed without a completed homestudy (deadlines were October 31, homestudy arrived in our email November 1), we got the information that an anonymous donor (we know the name of the donor but the donor wishes to remain anonymous to others) wanted to give us a substantial amount for our adoption. An amount that, at that time, would have brought us very close to being fully funded after one more big fundraiser (the quarter auction). An amount that was equal to several of the larger grants…. $15,000, an amount that equaled close to HALF of our full total (at that time). I was …. astounded.  Kraig was… elated. God is… a LAVISHING God of good things, to quote The Message translation of that verse. God basically said to me through that donation that He will provide in the least expected ways and the ways that don’t allow me to have control and self-sufficiency. He could have let me write grants, let us get awarded grants, let this donor keep this money, and He still would have been given the glory for the grant awards. But do you know what? I would have, albeit it quietly and in my heart, I would have kept a little of the glory for myself. I would have known that *I* did that, that *I * obviously could handle things at least some of the things, on my own. I wouldn’t have known what it meant to fully and completely depend on Him for the financial provision as much as the other pieces.

One thing that I will admit I have always enjoyed is planning fundraising events. As soon as we decided we were going through with this adoption, I sat down and brainstormed a master list of fundraising events and ideas. We basically did a fundraiser every month for the fall semester. We kicked things off with an envelope donation event, which was very successful. We also made team tees and sold them as an adoption fundraiser in September, did a 5K in October, had a quarter auction in November, sold “Home Sweet Home” shirts in November and December, and then hosted a Cottage Christmas Market in December for the purpose of raising funds for needed household expansion expenses. We realized pretty soon that, with these fundraisers, our significant donation, and generous donors, we would not need to use any other items on our master list of fundraisers (so if anyone needs any suggestions, I have a LOT, haha!). This semester we have done a tshirt fundraiser of an “I Left My Heart in so Many Places” tee designed by our Emma to push us to the end of our adoption bills.

All along the way, we have been BEYOND blessed by people giving so generously to our need. People have participated in our many fundraisers but they have also just given… Just sent cash and coins and checks and paid for specific pieces along the way. Two people very dear to us donated money specifically for Emma and Kelsey’s airfare. One generous person bought the new mattresses we would need. We had several people give significant amounts of money, some of whom knew us and some of whom knew our kids.  Our church has supported us in intentional and generous ways. My mom paid for the plane tickets of our three new kids.

We held a personalized cap fundraiser to raise funds to take with us to the orphanage and to use on the staff gifts we want to take with us. I set up at a booth at a ladies conference to sell Ozark trail mugs, tshirts, and hats.

All of that to say, in 9 months, God provided us with the $45,700 needed for our adoption, the travel costs for Emma and Kelsey, and funds to take generous gifts to the orphanage and staff. When God says He gives lavish gifts, that’s exactly what He does. When we first started this adoption, Kraig was deeply concerned with the financial future of caring for 5 kids and I was overwhelmed with the cost of the adoption itself.  Within a couple of weeks, we traded places and I became daunted by the costs of parenting five kids and he became worried about a $37,500 (which became much more) bill. That is when I knew…. I KNEW… that God was going to make a way. He doesn’t call you to something that He won’t also bring you through, stand beside you, send those to walk with you and hold up your arms. And it is through the experience of Him funding this adoption that has shown both of us that He is also going to take care of our financial future. When we almost double the size of our family, God will double the size of our portion. It’s just who He is.

***Edited at time of publishing, today, June 26, to say that it was perfect timing for me to publish today because I got a rejection letter in the mail today from Show Hope, the Steven Curtis Chapman organization that provides generous grants very freely to adoptive families. I applied at the last minute when our plane ticket costs skyrocketed and hoped that by some miracle, I would get the grant in time to be allowed to accept the money (it must be before travel). Instead, today I got the rejection letter that, even if it had been awarding the money, we couldn't have taken anyway since our kids are already home. However, a letter stating that we had received a grant would have meant that God did not allow us and provide for us to fully fund this adoption without a single grant. So this was yet another piece of this miraculous puzzle of God working everything to the good of these three kids and us in ways that could not be explained by man.

Friday, June 9, 2017

This Amazing Grace

Many people have asked how I am feeling right now. As we prepare to board our final flight to complete our family, I don't feel at all the way I expected to. The days leading up to this moment have found me nervous, excited, and joyful. This may change once we are at the final moment before meeting, but all day today I have felt nothing but the most unearthly calm. If you know me at all, you know that has to have been a Heavenly Calm because I can get anxious faster than the best of them and over NOTHING. ;)

 I am eager and so excited to see their faces in person, hug their necks and hold their hands, hear their voices, but I feel a peace unlike anything else I have experienced. We have known these names and faces for only 308 days today. And it feels like we have been waiting on them forever. But you know? Maybe we have. I know I have been waiting on them for 26 years, since I knew I was going to adopt at 12 years old. I had Emma at 25 and Kelsey at 27, so I guess I waited on them 25 and 27 years. 

I've tried to document everything as we have gone along and a few things I have purposely left unpublished for now, but it feels surreal and somehow simultaneously like the most natural thing in the world to be 3.5 hours away from Manila. I've imagined the coming moments for months and now they are about to be reality. I have tried to keep my expectations open because unrealistic (and unmet) expectations are the key to most disappointment. Emma and Kelsey's births both had elements of unrealistic and unmet expectations (especially Emma's) because I had already mapped out exactly how it would go and both had complications and hiccups and special plans that had to be abandoned in the moment. But both births, the one that ended with a million interventions I didn't want and the one that ended with a baby on the pediatric floor with an IV in her head..... both resulted in the most incredible memories and daughters and family I can imagine.

 I remember on my wedding day, trying to record every moment in my head because I hear so many people say that when they look back later, it was all a blur. I'm trying to go into this fourth huge life event with my hands open instead of holding onto the ways I think things should look and with my mind and heart poised to record all of the special moments that we will want to cherish forever. 

The biggest thing that we want to make clear is that God is so much bigger than every deadline, every piece of paper, every letter of reference, every dollar, every interaction, every governing body meeting, every Skype call, every moment..... I have believed in Him and loved Him as long as I can remember, but I have never had to depend on Him as fully as I have in the past 308 days. I have never had to trust completely in Him with a blind faith like I have these past ten months. 

On the days in the past weeks when I have been overcome with nerves about whether or not I am enough for this future, He sent so many specific words. The two I remember most clearly: 1. John Garrod saying to those who came to camp last Sunday night, "If you're wondering if you're enough, the answer is no. You aren't. HE is enough. And it's only when you come to the end of you that you can fully rest in Him." 2. Lance Colkmire saying on that same night, also in regard to camp but God said it to me in this context through him, "Don't worry about having what it takes. God knows how to love the orphan and He's going to use you to do it." WOW. 
So thank You, God, for all you've done to get us to this point and all You are going to do in the rest of our lives. You are enough.
As we move into these final minutes, this song keeps playing in my head:
"This Is Amazing Grace" by Phil Wickham

[Verse 1:]
Who breaks the power of sin and darkness?
Whose love is mighty and so much stronger?
The King of Glory, the King above all kings

Who shakes the whole earth with holy thunder
And leaves us breathless in awe and wonder?
The King of Glory, the King above all kings

This is amazing grace
This is unfailing love
That You would take my place
That You would bear my cross
You laid down Your life
That I would be set free
Oh, Jesus, I sing for
All that You've done for me

[Verse 2:]
Who brings our chaos back into order?
Who makes the orphan a son and daughter?
The King of Glory, the King of Glory

Who rules the nations with truth and justice,
Shines like the sun in all of its brilliance?
The King of Glory, the King above all kings

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Stories

Last night was graduation night. It was one of my favorite nights of the year and a night that simultaneously also always breaks my heart a little. When I look at the kids crossing the stage on that night, I see stories crossing that stage. Some kids ham it up, some smile nervously, some beam with pride, some seem almost angry.... last night, one wept all the way across and down the steps. Some kids have families that whoop and holler, some get applause, some get the cheers of their classmates, a few get a standing ovation... and some cross to the polite applause of strangers. In each of these kids, there is a story .... really, two stories-- the story that got them to this point and the story that is yet to be written.

Over 16 years of graduations, I have seen so many stories play out and climax on that stage.

For many of our students, graduation is a natural ending to a rather effortless sequence. They had family support and friend support and teacher support and, while they may have had to work hard in some classes (chemistry, for me), it was a pretty positive and easy experience. I was that student. And for those students (and for me), I am so thankful that life has given them that gift. They walk across with pride on their faces and excitement and maybe a little nervousness about the future.

We have some students who have endured great tragedy in their lives. I don't know every single student who has graduated from CHS but of the ones I DO know, I can name every one of the kids who walked across the stage with one or both parents absent through death. I always tear up at the thought of how proud that mama or daddy would have been to see this day and how, even though that kid smiles a brave smile, he or she has to feel like part of his/her heart is missing.

We have students who have overcome physical hardships, who struggle every day to even get out of the bed, much less make it to school and endure a school day. I have had students whose physical struggles made me wonder how I ever would think I have the right to complain about not feeling well or being tired. I don't know what true tired even feels like with all of my body parts working as they are meant to do.

There are other students who walk across the stage having conquered nearly insurmountable odds, and yet they have come out unscathed and glowing with success. They are comfortable in the fact that they triumphed over their circumstances and they just exude a wisdom that is beyond most of us. I talked to another teacher last night about one such kid who will graduate in the next year or two. These are the kids who, when you hear their story, you are astounded because you never would have dreamed they had a life that difficult. These are also the kids who have a very matter-of-fact attitude about it, who are surprised that you are surprised they have come so far.

Some CHS students are graduating alone. There are kids I have taught, many more of them than you would believe, who have no one in the audience on graduation night. They are either on their own (and many have been for years already), their parents are not interested, or they are estranged. I have kids whose parents are sitting in a jail cell on graduation night, who haven't seen a parent in years, who aren't sure who their parents are, who have been raised bouncing from one foster home to another. Those kids break my heart because there are no pictures after the ceremony, no parties, no special gifts, just another night alone and another morning of hard work the next day.

Some students have spent their high school years feeling isolated. Some feel pulled between two cultural identities, limited by the struggles of living in a society that doesn't understand you and doesn't really try, unable to fully find the words you want to find to connect because your language isn't the same as theirs. Some struggle with acceptance, with emotional issues, with mental illnesses, with addictions already stronger than that of many adults. I have read the words of kids who say how desperately they want to connect with others but they can't seem to find the ways to do it. I have watched kids walk around the prom completely alone. Nothing makes me want to just swoop in and fix it (which I can't do and it wouldn't help) any more than kids who feel alone in a world of connections. I think that's what I love so much about Holocaust education, that I feel that maybe it combats this a little bit by raising up kids who will speak up and stand alongside and walk beside those who need it.

There are always a few to whom that diploma means the world, the ones who scraped by in most classes, some who spent some time away from school for various reasons, kids who didn't ever dream a high school graduation was in the cards for them, some who are the first high school graduates in their family, those who left school early to work or have a baby but finished the courses in time to walk with their class. I love to see those kids walk across. You can see the miracle and wonderment on their faces and many of them acknowledge those who helped them reach that point with a look, a smile, a nod, a hug.

Our kids are our kids. Period. The hard workers, the brainiacs, the just-do-enough-to-get-by's and then-only-barelies, the ones everything comes harder for, those shining with success and those with deep regrets.... they are ours. And their stories matter. I spent the majority of this year preaching that all that you have in this world is your integrity and your voice and the world needs to see and hear both. I teach English, so I teach the stories. I teach the stories on the pages and I teach the stories sitting in the desks.

And no matter where each kid fell last night in the descriptions above, no matter what their story was in getting to that place, I hope they all know that the next chapter starts today. I told one of mine the other day that he is so much more than his past, than his family situation, than his circumstances. He is NOT defined by the story of those around him. He is writing his OWN story. They may leave that school, but they will never leave our hearts and I pray for them and we cheer them on and I hope that their stories only get brighter and brighter, that the kids who have struggled will find some ease, that the lonely kids will find company, that the kids who got here as a result of grace and mercy will find a way to show it to someone else, and that those who have suffered loss will find peace. I pray that every one of them will find success, passion, and laughter. And I am tremendously grateful that, even if only for a few pages, my story intertwined with theirs.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


For another 45 minutes, today is an extra special day. Today is the 14th anniversary of the birth of my #1 girl, my firstborn, Emma.

My pregnancy with Emma was pretty effortless, as most everything has been with her. We had been trying to get pregnant for less than a month when she was conceived. Other than a little swelling in my feet toward the end (and a really unfortunate fall down the stairs at nine months pregnant, an accident that ended in a broken foot and a walking boot for the last week or so), my body reacted beautifully to her presence.

Her delivery, however, was less than effortless. In fact, it was horrible and is the main reason I encourage people to go natural when birthing babies (Kelsey was a natural childbirth and though it hurt LIKE NO OTHER PAIN ON EARTH OR ANYWHERE I CAN IMAGINE, I still would take it any day over the awfulness of Emma's birth). I had to be induced since my foot was broken, my body wouldn't respond right and so things you don't want to hear about had to be done, things which they thought I couldn't handle without an epidural. I insisted that I not have one, so they gave me "something to take the edge off" in an IV and I started throwing up (allergic to pain meds). The end result was more interventions than I ever imagined-- anti-nausea meds to help the throwing up from the pain meds (which didn't work and I vomited the entire labor and delivery), an eventual epidural ANYWAY, and I was about ten minutes away from a C-section when I finally was able to have her.

From that point on, though, other than the bum foot and some brief nursing issues, she was the easiest baby ever to be birthed. She slept all the time (slept through the night the first night home from the hospital and every night thereafter), ate like a champ, never cried (except at her dedication at church), and was such a happy girl.

And pretty much, other than a few rough spells, those things characterize the entirety of Emma's years on earth. She is happy, funny, smart, athletic, and optimistic. I have never had to wake her for school, she is very rarely in a bad mood, and sometimes she's more responsible than I am. I have always been so proud to be her mom, so pleased to watch her successes and her kindnesses and her wit.

Last year for her birthday, I took Emma on a trip north, just the two of us. We spent two days in Holland, Michigan, then did Cedar Pointe and King's Island. I will never, ever, as long as I live forget that trip together. It was the most peaceful, fun, and happy time I have probably spent with another person. I felt like I got a glimpse on that trip of what being her friend when she's an adult will be like and it was a beautiful sight.

I have watched this girl on the dirt roads of Cambodia, the gym floors of Cleveland, TN, and in a hospital waiting room at Erlanger Hospital where Kraig had rushed her to join our family after Grandmother's stroke. The thing I love most about Emma is that no matter where you are or what's going on, Emma is what you're going to get. She is unapologetic at times, she is stubborn, she is gentle, she is empathetic, she is relentless, and she is a ever striving.

This year has been a challenging one at times between us. I put a fb post up a few weeks ago that said,
"Hello you long shots, You dark horse runners. Hairbrush singers, dashboard drummers. Hello you wild magnolias, Just waiting to bloom. There's a a little bit of all that inside of me and you. Thank God even crazy dreams come true" ~C.UnderwoodWe are feeling our way through this growing up thing, me and you, but I can't imagine anyone I'd rather learn parenting a teen trial by fire with than you. "
I meant that. We have had hard days and we will no doubt have many more, but she's my girl. Emma fights hard and Emma loves hard and I wouldn't trade her for anything.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mother's Day Here, Mother's Day There

We got word Friday that the required step we weren't aware of until recently is a longer step than we realized, so visas likely won't be issued until June. This still should mean that we can travel on our tentative travel date (June 8), but it would depend on no delays. Being this close and still this far is tough. Being this tired and needing this much energy is challenging. Feeling a little defeated and having so much to celebrate is contradictory. Thinking we would have so much time together before school started and having it continuously eaten into is annoying.
And needing them here and not having them is uncomfortable. I know it's probably hard to understand and I think if I read this, I would think, "How can you miss them? How can you ache to have them in your house, at your table, in your arms, when you haven't ever even had them there before? You don't even know them yet, how can you feel so strongly about them?" I understand your confusion. And I don't have an answer. I just know that I feel like I am living in emotional limbo with half of my heart here and the other half there.
And the only possible explanation I can give is that God does the same work in the heart of adoptive parents that he does in the heart of biologicals. You ache and long for that baby growing inside you, you feel intricately and intimately connected to it in ways that make no sense when you have just seen a grainy black and white ultrasound pic and have never heard its cry or cradled its downy head or felt it grasp your finger. That little baby is already your son or daughter. And those giggly, silly teenagers we have only interacted with over an impersonal computer screen are already our sons and daughter. And we ache and long for them every single day.

It's such a paradox because last Mother's Day, I never imagined that I would have five children by this Mother's Day. NEVER. Never, never, never. And yet since September, I never imagined that I would not have them physically present on this Mother's Day. Much like Easter, every thought I have had about tomorrow included them being here.

And I just.want.them.here.

I am so grateful that we get to Skype with them. But I want to talk to them in person. I am so grateful that God's miracles have allowed us to be their parents. But I want to hug them. I am so grateful that we get the rest of our lives to spend with them. But I want to sit around the table tomorrow with them at our sides. I want to stand beside them in church. I want to hear their laughter tonight as we eat chili (and rice, if they were already here, I guess). :)  I want to hear the rumble of their voices talking as they go to sleep tonight. I want to be at home with them this week, spending time getting to know each other.

I know that people are grieving children they have lost before birth, children who never were, children who are estranged, children who have perished. I know that this day is so hard for so many. And I truly hate that those people are living through that pain and those situations. I know it is selfish of me to want my kids to be here when I am so blessed to have these five kids. But it doesn't change how I feel. I still want them to be here. I want them to be here for me and I want them to be here for them. I want them to have the hug of a mom on Mother's Day.

But instead, I will spend tomorrow being loved on by the ones who are here and they will no doubt spend it loving on the ones who have served the role of mom for them for these past few years. And we will all treasure the day while waiting in joyful anticipation of next year, May 13, 2018, our first Mother's Day all together. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Things I've Carried

My AP class ends the year with excerpts from a book, one of my favorite books of all time, Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried. There are so many things about this book I love, so many chapters and lines that are so powerful, but a few years ago I started an assignment with this book that I believe to be the most powerful writing my students do in the school year. Last year I added it to my grade level senior classes as well.

The first chapter is the title chapter, "The Things They Carried". It talks about all the things these soldiers carry with them, tangible and intangible, in the Vietnam War. I talk to my students about the fact that they are coming to the end of childhood. The kind of sad part about saying that is that I know for many of them it is only partially true-- for many of them, childhood ended years earlier and they have been on their own, supporting themselves and sometimes others, for many years. Even in that situation, though, high school graduation is a dividing line. It separates the first section of your life from the next, and so I ask them to think about the things they have carried for the past 17, 18, or 19 years, and write about those things. Two years ago when I gave this assignment, I wrote my own along with them about the things I have carried in my teaching career. I am posting it below. 

I just finished reading the writings from my two English IV classes and that's why my face is wet with tears. These kids who sit in our classrooms every day, they carry SO MUCH. So much hurt, so much damage, so much pressure, so much promise, so much potential.... so much of everything. Today I showed a ChickfilA training video to my AP class called "Everyone has a Story". The people in the video all have bubbles above their heads that explain what their lives are like. It's a really important thing to consider, this idea that those around us are living with and carrying weights that we will never see. I wonder how much more gently we would treat each other if we knew what the other was carrying? 

One year away from halfway through… Halfway through the “home years”, halfway through my teaching career, halfway…halfway…

In the past fourteen years, I have carried many, many things. I have carried things for my students and I have carried things because of them. Some things are so very heavy and painful to bear. I have carried the crushing blow of a college rejection, the anxiety of Spring Break trips, the heavy load of the death of a parent. I have suffered under the weight of test scores and I have nearly drowned in the flood of white with blue lines or black text that covers my desk. I have carried the knowledge of kids who work all night and go to school all day just so that they can help a parent pay the bills, of a girl who was skipping school to chase the paper trail that is beaurocracy from the Social Security Office to the bank to the Housing Authority so that she could stay in school and live in a safe place. I have carried disabilities and health plans. I have carried the stress of seniors as they feel pressured to make life decisions RIGHT NOW when those life decisions don’t even need to be made for several years. I have carried the financial burden of a student who didn’t have the money to pay her father’s burial expenses and the funeral home was going to hold the body until they found the money. I have carried the weight of an empty chair at graduation, cap and gown draped over it for a student who never came home. I have carried other students across the stage, metaphorically speaking, to receive a diploma that probably should have had my name on it as well.

But oh, the beautiful things I have carried… I have carried the bite in the air of a Friday night football game, the tears of a successful curtain call, the triumphant cap toss in May. I have carried projects that perfectly captured the theme of a literary work, bags of brown research paper envelopes that proved to some that what seemed to be impossible was very much within their reach. I have carried Holocaust Memorial Projects that took my breath away because I know that THEY GOT IT, they embodied the message and purpose of Holocaust education. I have carried checks to non-profit agencies that represented blood, sweat, and tears from Holocaust Lit kids who went so far above and beyond in their projects that it astounded even me. I have carried the words of thousands of letters of recommendations. I have carried 2100 (more or less) names and faces. I have carried five yearbooks and the staffs I will never forget. I have carried ____ proms. I have carried college graduations and military deployments and weddings and new babies and new jobs for the “kids” who will always be “mine”. I have carried millions of text and fb messages and the occasional handwritten letter that boost my spirit in a way very little else can. I have carried requests to proofread and analyze long after these people leave my classroom.  I have carried the thrill of exciting news, the joy of seeing someone find his or her dream calling, the excitement of watching an athletic ability flourish at the collegiate level.

I have carried the words, the stories… so, so many words and stories. I think when you teach English, you become, in some sense, the keeper of the stories.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

He Used a Donkey. Surely He can Use Me.

I felt prompted to write this several times over the past week but didn't because PRIDE. Then again this morning, through a post from a friend who is going through something similar, I felt God pushing me to swallow my pride and say something that someone else might need to hear. So here we are.

It's not really something you probably should do, still being "evaluated " by social workers and only weeks before you add more kids to your parenting "resume"... admitting a mistake. But I am. And because I think there is a fine line between sharing my own failures so that someone else can be reassured and blasting my kids' poor decisions all over the internet, I will be selective about which forms of social media I share this on as well as how specific I am in my telling. This post isn't about the specific actions that led to this moment. It's about how to move forward.

For WEEKS, I have had a nagging fear that a child of mine was watching a popular show that is completely inappropriate for her age and possibly inappropriate for any age (I still haven't watched it so my jury is still out, although many people have many opinions about it)-- "Thirteen Reasons Why". However, every time I thought about it (and I am fully convinced this was the Holy Spitit prompting me), it's been a time that I couldn't ask her or check Netflix... the middle of the night, middle of the school day, a time when she wasn't home, etc.. Long story short, the timing finally matched up and I had Kraig check Netflix and I had been correct.

Let me say that there are several issues here. Number one and foremost, we are at fault. We did not do our part as parents in setting up the appropriate filters and limits on the Netflix accounts. We are the parents. That is OUR job. They are kids and they are WIRED to push limits. We blew it. However, there is fault on the part of our child as well. She knew full well what our expectations were as far as content and she knew from the first moment that we wouldn't approve. We don't have to make a list of accepted shows, movies, music, apps, etc.. She knows where our lines are and she didn't follow them. There is also a larger issue at play here in that you hope your kids develop their own principles and values that will guide them. Maybe 13 was a little young to see that play out in EVERY situation, so I told her until she developed a conscience of her own, she will have to just borrow mine. ;)

Finally, the main problem and the crux of this blog post is that she has now seen things she cannot unsee. We now have Netflix limits set, we are looking into internet filters, and we have had the moment of raging in anger and frustration frollowed by the rational consequences and discussion. I had a long talk with her about what she took away from the series, how she felt suicide was portrayed, what message she believes the show gives, the finality of death. It was, honestly, a really good talk and the lessons SHE took from the show were lessons I see as very valuable....

  Your words matter. 
You never know how things you say will affect another person. 
So while I feel a little better about it, the huge guilt is still there. And every time I get on fb, another article or blog post is staring me in the face, posted by a well-intentioned and informed parent:
"Why I would Never Let my Preteen Watch 13 Reasons Why"
"13 Reasons Why Your Kid Shouldn't Be Watching This Show"
"13 Reasons Why Blamed for Uptick in Youth Suicide"

And every time I see those, I have to remember that I was NOT an informed parent.
{Compounded by all of this is the fact that only 5 days after THIS discovery, we learned that BOTH girls had an app we didn't approve and one of them had a social media account we had said no to. The bright side is that I searched these and everything was not only fully harmless, but kind of sweet... HOWEVER, it's still deception. So we had THAT battle last weekend, followed by rational consequences and discussion. And not only are things feeling genuinely good at our house now, it has provided opportunities for discussion and solved a problem we had in that we didn't know how to handle our bio kids having devices and not giving them to our new 3. Now NO ONE has devices! Problem solved! :) }

So what do you do when your failures are screaming at you from every side? When you, the informed person in regard to teens, has let something slip? When you have these big fears that maybe this is all a reaction to the changes coming in your house, that what if a secret instagram of goofy falling videos and pics of friends with Bible verses and silly captions is a gateway to premarital sex and a lifestyle of drugs? When you feel crushed under the weight of a guilt that maybe you've been too preoccupied with people who aren't here to appropriately monitor the ones who are?

Or maybe for someone else in other situations: What do you do when the damage has already been done? You can take precautions, you can respond differently in the future, but what's been seen is seen, the seeds have been planted, the friends have been made, the bad choices are made, the dabbling has been done? When you have already "messed up" in your parenting and you can't undo the situation?

As God has been reassuring me this week, you keep going. You keep loving that kid, you keep communicating with him or her, you reassure that child of yours that love isn't conditional and neither is your presence. And then you give it all back to God again, just as you have so many times in the past. We don't just dedicate our children to the Lord as babies. We hand them back over to Him every year, weekly, DAILY. With every mistake, every poor choice, every "teenage moment", you recommit them to Him. He goes beyond internet filters, car tracking devices, and breathalyzers. He is everywhere we can't be and He loves them more than we ever could.

And then you let Him love YOU. Just as your kids make mistakes no matter how carefully you try to teach them, HIS kid (YOU) make mistakes too. And He doesn't want you to live crushed by guilt. He doesn't want your past errors to take away your confidence in the future. Nothing is too messy that God can't redeem it. No matter how dumb you feel and how much your pride hurts, you are still His joy and as long as you're trying, He is in it. God used a donkey. Surely He can use a parent who is trying their level best, against all odds and against a world and society and technology that seems out to get us. Between you and God, you've got this.